“Tom Finkelpearl is the lead voice for the arts and culture of New York City,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told a crowd at the Queens Museum this afternoon. All awaited the official announcement that Queens Museum Executive Director Tom Finkelpearl will become the city’s new cultural commissioner. After months of tight-lipped response from the mayor’s office, it’s official: Finkelpearl’s the new guy.
As commissioner, Finkelpearl will oversee the Department of Cultural Affairs, the largest art funding organization in the country, responsible for dispensing over $150 million in grants to local art organizations within the five boroughs. He will replace outgoing commissioner Kate Levin, who headed up the Department of Cultural Affairs from 2002 to 2013 under the Bloomberg administration. The city has been without an acting commissioner since Levin’s departure on December 31, 2013.
The timing of this announcement couldn’t be better. Hundreds of art organizations have already applied for city funding this year; deadlines for program funding were due on February 10 with grant awards to be announced this spring. (So thank God we’ll have someone in charge of that.)
During today’s press conference at the Queens Museum, a variety of issues were raised—including whether de Blasio takes an interest in George W. Bush’s paintings. One of the more notable comments came from Finkelpearl, who made clear one of his goals within the administration.
“The social value of art on community level has not yet been argued well by the government,” Finkelpearl said, “and I intend to make that case.”
Over the decades, Finkelpearl’s career has been marked by an interest in social activism. He’s published on the topic extensively; his latest book, What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Cooperation (2013), covers that territory quite well from an historical perspective. From 1990 to 1996, Finkelpearl served as Director of New York City’s Percent for Art Program and after that as Deputy Director of PS1. His interest in social engagement has become more well-known to a wider public as the Executive Director of the Queens Museum; it was formerly known as the Queens Museum of Art until Finkelpearl got rid of the “of Art” at the end of the name, citing a need to make the museum more inclusive to the Queens community.
Over Twitter, Queens Museum Director of Education Jason Yoon mentioned that Finkelpearl will be leaving the museum—although a date has not yet been set.
With years of administrative experience and a general knack for bringing communities together, it looks like Finkelpearl will be a great fit for the de Blasio administration. But some questions still remain: Will Finkelpearl continue serving on the board of the private foundation a Blade of Grass? Will social-activist art be given more visibility within the new administration? And of course, who will take over the Queens Museum?